Living with Voice Control and Home Automation – A First Hand ExperienceMatt Irvin
It has been 10 months since I met Alexa.
I brought this lovely device into my home, eager to run it through its paces so I could better explain to my customers just how this device could work for them. Firstly, this was no ordinary install. Many people using the Amazon device simply plug it in and use it for its basic functions; asking what the weather is, playing some music, setting timers for cooking, etc. I was more interested in seeing just how far I could implement this device into my home. I wanted the future, and I wanted it now.
Of course, we are a Control4 dealer. Control4 is a home automation company that takes all of your smart devices and brings them under the same eco-system within your home or business and allows them to work together, thus making the “smart home” experience much more… well, smart. I have many Control4 devices installed in my personal home and I live with the system on a daily basis. Voice control has always been hit or miss integrating into systems like these. Whatever the barriers were, the control was clunky, rarely reliable, and always proved to be more frustrating than helpful. Knowing the data driven power of the Amazon Echo I was encouraged.
I installed the device well before there were certified integrations with Control4 available. What this means is the companies involved, in this case Control4 and Amazon, were not completely on the same page with each other. It took a third party to write the necessary code to make my new Amazon Echo talk to my Control4 system. I paid for the code, installed, and went to work playing around with it.
Like any child with a new toy, I went all out. Programming voice controlled lighting scenes, programming the TV to turn on to the Disney channel in the mornings (when they play Disney Jr programming) and Disney Jr after 10. I programmed “Goodnight” scenes which would turn off the whole house, scenes for shades, setting temps, channel shortcuts on the TV for mom and dad. It was great, but there was a problem…
I was limited to 30 “sayings” initially, each giving 4 specific commands. “Turn On ____” Turn Off _____” “Turn Up_____” “Turn Down_____”
Now this might not seem like a big deal but limiting something to 4 specific commands really trains you to speak strangely to get what you want.
“Echo (we use echo because we have too many friends named Lexi which really gets confusing for the device) ,Turn Up Living Room Shade”
“Echo, Turn On Kid’s TV”
“Echo, Turn Down Kitchen Lights”
Guests thought I was crazy, sure the commands worked, but you really had to think about how to say the command to get the action you wanted. Furthermore, me being a bit of a tinkerer, I programmed really bizarre things to happen for some of these commands. It made sense to me at the time but in reality, there was no logical connection behind some of the stuff I was saying to the system and what was actually happening.
Even with that, this was about as cool as I had seen voice control work. My wife was using it, my three year old daughter was trying to use it (usually just yelling “ECHO” at the top of her lungs). It really was working well but I was still a bit hesitant to recommend to my customers due to the clunky way you had to give it commands. Then, it got better..
At CEDIA 2016 (our industry’s trade show) Amazon and Control4 announced their native integration with one another. No more third-party integration that could potentially be unusable after an update, no more relying on small support should problems arise, it finally happened, the two companies were working together. After the demonstrations in Dallas, I quickly went back home and loaded up the native skill on my Amazon Echo.
AMAZING! All of my lights came in, automatically, my thermostats, lighting scenes, everything just imported over with no special programming. I could talk like a human being to it as well.
“Echo, dim the kitchen lights to 40%”
“Echo, turn off the play room lights that my daughters left on” (yes, this command works and really gets the point across to a 2 and 4 year old)
“Echo, set the thermostat to 72 degrees”
Echo, after a brief pause due to the fact that Echo communicates with cloud servers first then back to your home, says “Ok”… and it happens! Furthermore, I was able to add in my own scenes, called voice scenes, for my favorite channels, shades, etc. I COULD SPEAK IN ENGLISH AND ECHO WOULD LISTEN.
“Echo, turn on TiVo”
“Echo, turn on movie time in the theater”
“Echo, turn on the Kid’s TV”
“Echo, turn down the volume in the living room”
Is it perfect? Have we finally achieved what we say in Back 2 the Future 2? Well, not quite yet, but this is the closest we have come to it.
We use the Alexa – Control4 integration everyday, multiple times. We rarely touch a light switch, rarely need to find the remote to turn the TV off. We even have a command to make our Control4 remote beep when it becomes lost (hint, it’s usually in the refrigerator where the 2 year old left it). It has become part of our everday lives, and that’s what a truly smart home does, it improves the way you go about the every day activities in your home. So much so, that in brief stints when I’m adding in devices to my home that takes the system down for a brief time, the tempers begin to flare.
“Why isn’t Echo working!?!?”
“When will Echo work again?!?”
“DAD! What did you do!?!”
Sure, there are still improvements to be made. The delay is a bit long on occasion, there is still a few times when you feel like you are speaking like a robot instead of talking naturally to the device. We are still somewhat limited on what we can do with the systems and we cannot yet give multiple commands in the same sentence, at lease not without spending much, much more on a voice control system (Hi Josh.ai). But it works, and the proof of that is how much my family and I use it in our own home. Every morning begins with “Echo, turn on good morning” and every night ends with “Echo, turn off the house”, she always responds with “ok”.
By combining the awesome voice control capabilities of the Amazon Alexa with the powerful Control4 home automation system, voice control for the home really is here…….
…….and it is awesome.